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When Napoleon stood and watched Moscow burn in September 1812 and realised that his glorious victory over the Russians was in fact "the herald of great disasters", he is said to have hissed: "What extraordinary resolve! What men! These are Scythians!"

Napoleon knew the passage in Herodotus where the Scythians defeat the Persians by drawing them deep into their territory. He linked the Russians with their wild, steppe-living forebears, whose habits provided Herodotus with some of his most colourful material, and he recognised in his own calamitous position the sort of sudden change of fortune, the hubris and nemesis, relished by Herodotus the story-teller. It is a measure of Herodotus's extraordinary legacy that at great historical moments, an echo can usually be found in his Histories. It also says something of the ageless qualities of his writing that in the space of a couple of years, two distinguished writers - Ryszard Kapuscinski in his Travels with Herodotus and now Justin Marozzi in this book - should follow in his footsteps.

You can see immediately why Marozzi so admires Herodotus. They have much in common. Each uses a quick and colloquial style. Each dwells lovingly on the physique of women, and draws out any story that contains a sexual element. Each is attracted to war but appalled by its effects, and each is driven by an awareness that great wonders exist beyond their own shores and their own times - and by the restless urge to record them.

In his own political outlook, Marozzi is also a committed Herodotean. In this book as well as in his journalism, he rails admirably against the current narrowing of world-views, the post-9/11 ideology that has closed liberal minds, the brutish and simplistic dualism that has lain behind the "war on terror". Herodotus was above all a swaggering champion of diversity, whose persistent curiosity about alien beliefs and traditions was not merely a balanced or relativist stance but a celebration of humanity in all its forms. In the very first lines of The Histories, he spells out his intention to record "great and marvellous deeds - some displayed by Greeks, some by barbarians". The relevance of what follows, and the spur for Marozzi's own travels, is that such sentiments are now far from prevalent.

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Slava Maldzis
February 26th, 2010
11:02 PM
Вітаю, Філіп!!! Ці ты той, які адлюстроўваў быцё беларускае ў 1994 годзе? Ці ты напісаў: "On the evening Zofia Ilinska was born, in what was then the Polish city of Wilno, her father went to church and prayed with such intensity that he was locked in all night. Her life after that was never short of drama. She witnessed a string of episodes which might have made a lesser spirit cautious or bitter, but in her case served only to sharpen her courage, her innate sense of adventure, and the resolve to celebrate the world through her poetry." I invite to contact (Minsk, Belarus)

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